Building our case for Christianity takes some time and determination. I thought you might like to go on this journey with me. Last time we opened our case file by looking at the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ mother and father. Now let’s add more eyewitnesses from Jesus’ family, his relatives, Zechariah, Elizabeth and their son, John the Baptist. We are building our case to show why we believe Christianity is true. We’re starting from those closest to Jesus and working our way outward through his circle of friends and then on to those who opposed him. There is plenty of evidence right there in your Bible! All you need is the perspective of an investigator.
John The Baptist
Eyewitnesses from Jesus’ family include more than his parents. We also need to consider some other relatives. One of those is John the Baptist. John the Baptist is certainly an unusual family member, his birth is evidence of that! You can read more about that in the gospel of Luke. John’s parents were a couple well beyond childbearing years. John’s father, Zechariah was a priest who served in the temple of God. It was his turn to burn the incense, but while performing this duty, an angel of the Lord appeared to him. The angel tells Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will have a special baby boy. Let’s look at what the angel says.
An Angelic Visit
Luke 1:13-17 tells us what the angel said to Zechariah, “Your wife Elizabeth will have a child. It will be a boy, and you must call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you. His birth will make many people very glad. He will be important in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or other such drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will prepare the way for the Lord. He will have the same spirit and power that Elijah had. He will bring peace between parents and their children. He will teach people who don’t obey to be wise and do what is right. In this way, he will prepare a people who are ready for the Lord.”
Okay, so there is a lot here. Can you imagine hearing this at family gatherings and repeated on holidays?! Imagine the pressure to live up to those expectations! The angel here is referencing some prophecies that would have been familiar to Zechariah. Check out Isaiah 40:3 and be sure to read Luke 1:67 – 80 where we see Zechariah call John a prophet, the one to prepare the way for the Lord. He even prophetically reveals John’s primary message. We will see later, in John 1:19-23, that John the Baptist confirms that he is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.
Asking for Proof
Next Zechariah shows some skepticism when he asks the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man, and my wife is old too.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I serve God. I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will have to be silent. You will not be able to speak until after John is born. That’s because you did not believe my words. They will come true at the time God has chosen.” Luke 1:18-20.
Do you notice what’s happening here? Through Zechariah’s astonishment, the angel gives us some evidence to back up what is about to happen. Elizabeth did indeed have a child, a son, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth (see Luke 1:41-44). AND Zechariah was unable to speak until after the birth of John (see Luke 1:21-22 and 1:57-66). Zechariah and Elizabeth were given some immediate proofs or signs that what the angel said was true. Now the interesting thing that the Bible notes is the reaction of Zechariah’s neighbors. They were filled with fear and wonder and people began talking about what had happened. These people would have been able to verify what happened to Zechariah and Elizabeth because they knew them. If this had been made up, these would be the people to expose the truth.
Hearing from God
Just like we learned last time, God took the time to validate his messages. In addition to his parents hearing from an angel, John heard from the Holy Spirit. You can find that referenced in John 1:32-34. In this case, the words of the Holy Spirit give some specific detail about the baptism of Jesus, that the Spirit of God will descend on the one that will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And sure enough John witnesses this very thing happen in Matthew 3:13-17.
John the Baptist a Skeptic
The gospel of John records many things that John the Baptist said about Jesus. He was quick to point out that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. You should take the time to read about that in John 1 and 3, it will be worth your time. Try writing down some of the titles that John gives to Jesus. There is one more point about John the Baptist that makes him such a great witness. He has some skepticism of his own. It didn’t end well for John the Baptist, ultimately he was imprisoned and beheaded. Never one to mince words when calling for repentance, John managed to anger a powerful ruler, Herod. And while he was in prison, John sent this message to Jesus:
Matthew 11:2-6 , “John the Baptist was in prison. When he heard about the actions of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him. They asked Jesus, “Are you the one who is supposed to come? Or should we look for someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back to John. Report to him what you hear and see. Blind people receive sight. Disabled people walk. Those who have skin diseases are made ‘clean.’ Deaf people hear. Those who are dead are raised to life. And the good news is preached to those who are poor. Blessed is anyone who does not give up their faith because of me.”
Even though John the Baptist had heard from the Holy Spirit, he was still skeptical regarding Jesus identity. Jesus reminds John that all of the prophecies of the Old Testament were being fulfilled. The signs demonstrated his power over creation and they were a list of compounding evidence that confirmed his identity. This is powerful! Jesus was not offended by the question, he was happy to provide the evidence! It was evidence that John needed to secure his own belief.
What History Says about John the Baptist
John’s untimely demise is mentioned in other historical documents. The Antiquities of the Jews references John the Baptist and his character. Flavius Josephus records the fact that many assumed the destruction of Herod’s army was punishment (from God) for John’s death. Here is what Josephus says about John’s character, “Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism…” This is evidence outside of the Bible that confirms John’s integrity, his ministry and the nature of his death. In Person of Interest, J. Warner Wallace has reconstructed the entire gospel from external sources like these. So, if all of the Bibles in the world were destroyed, the gospel would still be in-tact in other historical documents. I love this!
The Building List
As we build our witness list, we are still within Jesus’ inner circle. We will add to the eyewitnesses from Jesus’ family as we look at his brother James. Then we will expand our search to close friends and associates. What we are seeing is that these witnesses were reliable. Their reports would have been easily confirmed by locals close to them. And history even speaks highly of their character. I hope you are learning something from our investigation that can help you and your children give evidence for your faith. Be sure to talk through your discoveries with your children. Include them in the investigation. Be sure to go back to review the eyewitness accounts of Mary and Jospeh!
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